Looking beyond the horizon

“May the Aurora Fund open the way for all to see beyond the horizon!” said Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, Board Chairperson of Aurora, among other things when she opened the meeting at the National Museum of Iceland on 23 January where the first grants of the fund were announced.

“May the Aurora Fund open the way for all to see beyond the horizon!” said Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, Board Chairperson of Aurora, among other things when she opened the meeting at the National Museum of Iceland on 23 January where the first grants of the fund were announced.

The ceremony began with an excellent musical performance by the group Hjaltalín, which performed later in the programme as well, and ended with an enchanting piece performed by violinist Una Sveinbjörnsdóttir.

In her address, Ingibjörg recounted the prelude to the fund’s formation, and closed with the following remarks:

“Just as the four children of the goddess Aurora represent the four cardinal directions north, south, east and west, we are here today to support four projects: two cultural projects in Iceland – one in North Iceland and one in the south – and two development projects in Africa – one in the east and one in the west. Detailed information about the fund and the projects is available on the fund’s website www.aurorafund.is  Before I bring on the Board members, I would like to thank everyone who has played a role with my husband and me to make this project, which is very dear to us, a reality. May the Aurora Fund open the way for all to see beyond the horizon.”

Dozens of well-wishers were present at the ceremony, and the atmosphere was energised! Minister of Education, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, honoured the gathering with her presence, as did her counterpart from the government of Sierra Leone, Dr. Minkailu Bah. After Dr. Bah accepted a document from Ingibjörg, the Fund’s chairperson, confirming the three-year cooperative project between Aurora and the educational authorities in his home country, he conveyed heartfelt appreciation from his government and his fellow citizens for the gift.

Sigurður Guðmundsson, Iceland’s Medical Director of Health and Board member of Aurora, introduced the Malawi project for guests. In a way, he was on home turf since he worked in Malawi on behalf of the Icelandic International Development Agency in 2007, along with his wife, Sigríður Snæbjörnsdóttir. As no representative from Malawi was on hand to accept the grant from Sigurður, an Icelandic girl, Hekla Sól Kristjánsdóttir, was selected to duly represent Malawi and carried out her responsibility with distinction.

Þórunn Sigurðardóttir, Artistic Director of the Reykjavík Arts Festival and Board member of Aurora, introduced the decision of Aurora’s Board to establish the Kraumur Music Fund to support young musicians. Eldar Ástþórsson, newly appointed managing director of Kraumur, accepted the grand and said that the fund would provide great support for music and musicians in Iceland. The group Hjaltalín conveyed its thanks, and the thanks of young musicians, in its own way ? with selected tones from the far end of the museum’s hall.

Ólafur Ólafsson, one of the Aurora Fund’s two founders and a Board member, presented the grant to Sigurgeir’s Stuffed Bird Collection in Mývatnssveit district. He commented that the entrepreneurial spirit of the family at Ytri-Neslöndum had impressed him, when it took the bold decision to build a home for the bird collection that Sigurgeir Stefánsson left behind after he died in a tragic accident at Mývatn in early winter 1999. Ólafur praised those behind the museum for their determination, courage and vision, as well as their prudence, during the implementation of the project. Pétur Bjarni Gíslason, Sigurgeir’s brother-in-law, was present to accept the grant from Ólafur. He hoped that the grant would make it possible for the museum to open on 1 July next summer.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, Board Chairperson of Aurora, made mention of the fund’s name, Aurora, and among other comments said:

“An African once had the task of translating into his language a text that included the concept “hope.” He felt that the translation was particularly difficult because the word “hope” just did not exist in his mother tongue. Time passed and nothing happened when suddenly the man´s face lit up with excitement and he shouted, “To hope is of course to see beyond the horizon!”

It is no coincidence that we chose the name AURORA for the fund that is today announcing its first grants. The name has two meanings:

1.    Aurora is the Roman personification of the dawn. In this manner, Aurora connotes the spiritual value of light and luminosity, the dawn that makes it possible for us to see beyond the horizon where hope resides.

2.    Aurora is related to aurum, which in Latin means gold and is related to the Icelandic words eyrir and aurar. Aurora, therefore, refers to worldly value, to the financial resources that can bring good if the right attitude is in place, and matters properly handled. This is exactly the twofold nature of the fund: To ignite within people NEW HOPE, and strengthen the capacity to do GOOD WORKS.”

Ingibjörg also discussed in her address how it came about that she and her husband, Ólafur, began focusing on Africa and development aid on that continent, and cultural projects in Iceland:

“The idea to actively support development aid in Africa, this magnificent cradle of mankind, arose during trips that Ólafur and I took there and projects we were involved in. It would be difficult not to feel a strong emotional bond with this continent of unbelievable expanses, ever-changing nature and fantastic people.

“When I think of Sierra Leone, I always feel the power that lives within this nation despite all the adversity. I see throngs of people in Freetown, untamed and vibrant lifein a city that never sleeps. Despite a difficult employment situation and a multitude of adversities, the people of Sierra Leone are able to forget the toil of daily life in song and dance. Smiles and laughter are never far away, and it is easy to be enchanted. Ólafur and I have often spoken of how in these trips our spirit fluctuates. It swings from lack of hope, even resentment of the situation, particularly the completely pointless destruction that occurred during the civil way, to exhilaration and excitement over all the possibilities standing before this fantastic continent ? IF the bedrock of society is in order, i.e. health care, education, clean water and transportation. Finally, gladness seeps in because of all the positive things that are being done. And then the big question pops up: ‘What can be done?’

“The idea to support cultural projects in Iceland came about when Ólafur and I decided to support financially Kjartan Ragnarsson and Sigríður M. Guðmundsdóttir in establishing the Icelandic Settlement Centre in Borgarnes. It has been a joy to see how this terrific project of theirs has sown seeds for new, bold ideas, and has demonstrated how short the distance can be between good ideas and reality.”


Aurora Charity Fund allocates ISK 210 million to four projects in Iceland and Africa

The Board of Aurora Charity Fund announced today its decision to allocate a total of ISK 210 million to the fund’s first projects. The couple Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, landscape architect, and Ólafur Ólafsson, Chairman of Samskip and Alfesca, established the foundation one year ago on Ólafur’s 50th birthday, 23 January 2007, with an initial donation of ISK one billion. It was later given the name Aurora Charity Fund, a charter and operational procedures were approved and a Board of Directors appointed.

Income from the foundation, which will derive from dividends and interest, will on the one hand be earmarked for various projects in developing countries, and on the other to enhance life in Iceland by supporting projects in areas of culture, education and the arts in accordance with the fund’s charter.

The Board of the fund now announces its first grants, a total of ISK 100 million earmarked for four projects this year. Two of the projects are for three years, so the Board is actually allocating a total of ISK 210 million:

  • Sigurgeir’s Stuffed Bird Collection in Mývatnssveit district, receives ISK 20 million to fully complete exhibition facilities with all necessary equipment in the museums new building at Ytri-Neslönd in Mývatnssveit district.
  • Mangochi District Hospital in Malawi, Africa, receives ISK 20 million to build a children’s wing and strengthen the infrastructure of the children’s ward.

Two projects received grants for three years:

  • A UNICEF educational project in Sierra Leone, receives a total of ISK 120 million over three years to develop a child-friendly educational system, including the building of schools, in particular with the needs of girls in mind, i.e. ISK 40 million this year, ISK 40 million in 2009 and ISK 40 million in 2010.
  • New fund to strengthen young musicians, Kraumur Music Fund, receives a total of ISK 50 million to support young musicians in performing and presenting their works: ISK 20 million this year and a total of ISK 30 million in 2009 and 2010. The Kraumur Music Fund was established on the initiative of Aurora Charity Fund.

Sierra Leone’ Minister of Education, Dr. Minkailu Bah, came to Iceland on the occasion of the Aurora Charity Fund’s decision to support develop his country’s educational system. He met with Iceland’s Minister of Education, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, and visited both the University of Iceland and Reykjavík University.

  • The Board of the Aurora Charity Fund comprises the founders, the couple Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, landscape architect, and Ólafur Ólafsson, Chairman of Samskip and Alfesca. The other Board members are Sigurður Einarsson, Executive Chairman of Kaupthing Bank, Sigurður Guðmundsson, Iceland’s Medical Director of Health and Þórunn Sigurðardóttir, Artistic Director of the Reykjavík Art Festival.
  • The Board of the Kraumur Music Fund comprises Þórunn Sigurðardóttir, Ásmundur Jónsson and Pétur Grétarsson. The newly appointed Managing Director of the fund is Eldar Ástþórsson.
  • The Consultancy Committee of the Kraumur Music Fund comprises Björk Guðmundsdóttir, musician, Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir, Managing Director of Iceland Music Export (IMX), Árni Heimir Ingólfsson, Music director of Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Árni Matthíasson, journalist on the daily Morgunblaðið, Mist Þorkelsdóttir, Dean of the Department of Music, Iceland Academy of the Arts, Kjartan Sveinsson, keyboard musician for Sigur Rose, and SJÓN (Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson), author.
  • The Aurora Charity Fund has opened a website www.aurorafund.is where detailed information can be found regarding the foundation, the Kraumur Music Fund and projects being supported.

Sigurgeir’s Stuffed Bird Collection is named after Sigurgeir Stefánsson from Ytri-Neslöndum in Mývatn, who had a keen interest in birdlife and nature, and who died in an accident in 1999. He collected stuffed birds and eggs, and had accumulated about 320 from some 100 species of nesting birds in Iceland. After his passing, Sigurgeir’s relatives decided to build a museum in his memory to house the collection, along with Sleipni, a boat owned by Jón Sigtryggsson from Syðri-Neslöndum and one of the first modes of transportation for the people of Mývatn. The new museum was weather-tight in 2006, but various equipment and displays were still needed. The Aurora Charity Fund intends to provide the support necessary to open the museum to the public.

The Board of Aurora Charity Fund explained the reason for the decision:

“The family of the late Sigurgeir Stefánsson deserve credit for having built a home for the stuffed bird collection, and for having shown great determination and perseverance in their efforts. The Board of the Aurora Charity Fund has decided to take part in the project in order that Sigurgeir’s Stuffed Bird Collection receives the equipment necessary to enrich life and culture in Mývatn as well as the entire country.”
Health Project in Malawi. The Aurora Charity Fund is financing the building of a new addition to the children‘s ward in the Mangochi District Hospital in Malawi, expected to be fully operational by fall 2008. The current children‘s ward is much too small, and the new addition will double its size, adding 36 new beds to the 36 already in place. Also intensive care and newborn units with 10 additional beds will be established, as well as a reception area and a duty station for the health care staff. Furthermore, necessary work will commence on the hospital‘s sewage system and septic tanks.

The Board of Aurora Charity Fund explained the reason for the decision:

“It is imperative to improve and strengthen health-care services in Malawi, in particular for children. Ten percent of all newborn children die before reaching their fifth birthday. This must certainly change, and the Aurora Charity Fund intends to play a role in improving health-care services at the children‘s ward of the Mangochi District Hospital in Malawi.”
Educational Project in Sierra Leone. The goal of this project is to support UNICEF and the government of Sierra Leone to ensure a primary education for all school-aged children by 2015. The Aurora Charity Fund will collaborate with UNICEF in Iceland to ensure that 85% of the children in Sierra Leone will be receiving a primary education by 2010. The foundation will grant USD two million over the period three years (2008-2010) to build schools in Sierra Leone. Each school building will have 3-6 classrooms for children between the ages of 6-12. Furthermore the foundation will provide furniture and necessary supplies for the schools, including water, bathroom facilities and playground equipment. It will also finance the educating and training of teachers, as well as putting a special focus on the education and ensuring the safety of girls, and support women‘s and mothers‘ groups.

The Board of Aurora Charity Fund explained the reason for the decision:

“Education is one of the most powerful weapons fighting poverty in the world. In particular, it gives children the opportunity to achieve a decent living, increases their self-respect and goes a long way to creating an informed society. UNICEF has formulated, in the opinion of the Aurora Charity Fund’s board, a well-rounded programme for developing primary education in Sierra Leone, one of the world’s poorest countries. Solutions are focused at the roots of the problem: addressing most factors that prevent children of primary school age, especially girls, from receiving the education that is rightfully theirs.”
Kraumur Music Fund is an independent fund established by the Aurora Charity Fund. Its aim is to strengthen Icelandic musical life, primarily by supporting young musicians in performing and presenting their works. This will be done by strengthening the position of young musicians in Iceland through direct grants, professional assistance and various forms of cooperation. The fund also intends to fulfil its mission by sharing knowledge in the field, for example by courses, consulting and workshops, as well as through working in cooperation with those who share the same goals. The Board of Aurora Charity Fund explained the reason for the decision:

“Icelandic musical life has a special uniqueness, in particular because of the palpable power and boldness that characterise young musicians. The Sugarcubes and Björk pioneered the global explosion of Icelandic music, and many musicians have followed in their footsteps with amazing results. Today, the Icelandic music experience has become one of the strongest elements of the image that Iceland and Icelanders enjoy abroad. The unusual interplay of pop and classical music can be a driving force in ongoing successes. The support of young musicians in their works, and in various forms of cooperation, creates a stronger foundation under this important growth area of Icelandic culture.”